100 Canadians

Maclean's ranks the famous—and the forgotten—who most inspired the nation

July 1 1998

100 Canadians

Maclean's ranks the famous—and the forgotten—who most inspired the nation

July 1 1998

100 Canadians

Maclean's ranks the famous—and the forgotten—who most inspired the nation

Canadians are a strange people. We complain that our history is boring, because we have no Lincolns or Churchills, no Civil Wars and no Dunkirks— but then we denounce the American or British authors who leave Canadian achievements and individuals out of their books that assess the great events of past and present. We claim we have few heroes, but lionize our hockey stars, successful entertainers, and the occasional prime minister who gives us the finger and gets away with it. The problem, more correctly put, is that Canadians don’t know their own history and sometimes understand too little about their present. We have always read more British and American books and magazines than our own, and today we watch U.S. television and movies and neglect our own publications and productions. We continue to be caught up in global events—especially American—at the same time as we express profound boredom with the ongoing intricacies of our own constitutional and political wranglings. And some how, to judge by the carping of critics and separatists, we have come to believe that this nation is a failure.

In fact, to anyone with the eyes to see, Canada is a huge success, a nation that has overcome most of the problems of geography and regionalism, race, religion and class to build a garden in the wilderness. And, astonishingly, we have done this without civil wars and with remarkably little blood on our hands or much justifiable collective guilt. Canada is a nation that has offered and continues to offer the opportunity of a good life the vast majority of its citizens.

These undeniable achievements were not preordained; instead they were the product of the efforts of countless millions of ordinary women and men, the native peoples who lived here from time immemorial and the immigrants who began pouring into this land from the 16th century onwards. All contributed to building this country—the settlers laying corduroy roads and breaking the prairie sod; the immigrant laborers push ing the railway across the continent; the construction workers building the cities and the miners digging out the treasures of the earth; the parents struggling to raise their families in hard times, as well as the legislators from backwoods ridings and urban con-


Gen. Georges Philias Vanier

Northrop Frye

stituencies who represented their citizens’ interests in the capital. Canada has always been a collective work—and the work is still in progress.

Inevitably, however, some individuals stand out for their great achievements. Some made a difference to the way we live. Some led us in war and set an example of courage, duty and service. Some changed our laws or carved a nation out of fractious colonies and kept it together through war and depression, peace and prosperity. Some wrote great books that inspired the mind while others entertained us, even moving us to tears with their dazzling artistic or athletic skills. Some were business leaders who found better ways of making goods and selling them to Canadians and the world. Some were scientists toiling in obscurity until a discovery altered the lives of millions. And some were characters who astonished or appalled us, leaving Canadians shaking their heads in wonderment.

The 100 Most Important Canadians in History looks at these individuals who made a difference. These are the men and women who, for good—and sometimes for ill—led Canada 1.

to where it is today at the edge of 2.

the millennium. 3

In preparing The 100 Most Important Canadians in History, Maclean’s decided , to focus on 10 P* broad categories—Activists, Artists, Stars, Thinkers

and Writers, Characters, Discoverers and Innovators, Entrepreneurs, Heroes, Nation Builders, ¡¡^ and Scientists.

Next, we had to define “important.” Did media stardom equal importance? Were wealth and power a measure of importance? And how to compare importance in one field with another? In the end, we defined importance as a balance of character, enduring achievement, influence, renown, and an individual’s contribution to Canada and the world. Even so, inclusion in the list could also be earned

for notoriety that had great effect on Canada and Canadians. We decided that a person’s contribution counted for more than a strict definition of citizenship, which allowed us to include some of the early explorers, along with Alexander Graham Bell, who remained a U.S. citizen despite his close connection to Canada.

Then came the hard part. Who were The 100? We contacted experts in each category and asked them to provide a ranked order of names. Meanwhile, Maclean’s invited readers to make nominations—and hundreds flooded in, touching on every aspect of Canadian life. Some readers suggested collectives, like the Group of Seven, and we included a few.

Many of the same names were nominated by both readers and the experts. Their choices generated the list of 100. There followed a long discussion to finalize the leader in each category, then to select the overall No. 1 Most Important Canadian. You will find our verdicts in the following pages.

But let’s be honest. Although we consulted widely, the list is arbitrary. Any such list is bound to be. Different experts and readers could have produced a much different list.



We know the present list gives too much weight to “dead white males” from central Canada who held power and had the greatest opportunities throughout key periods of Canada’s history. We tried to offset this by ranging widely over time and taking account of the requirements of balance—regional, gender and ethnic—and we endeavored to be inclusive. We failed—because the weight of history and accomplishment determined that we must. If a list of this nature is prepared in 2050, it will look very different as more women and recent immigrants rise to the pinnacle of Canadian achievement.

Nonetheless, the list is representative, a record of courage and accomplishment to make Canadians proud. We trust that it will also inform, entertain, surprise—and possibly even outrage some readers. Here, then, are The 100 Most Important Canadians in History.

Jack Granatstein taught Canadian history at York University in Toronto for 30 years. He is the author of many books, the most recent of which is Who Killed Canadian History? published by HarperCollins. He is now director and CEO of the Canadian War Museum.

The Panelists

Bluma Appel, art expert and philanthropist David Bercuson, historian, University of Calgary Carl Berger, historian, University of Toronto Serge Bernier, director, history and heritage, National Defence Headquarters Robert Bothwell, visiting fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington Phyllis Bruce, publisher, Phyllis Bruce Books, HarperCollins Publishers Penny Bryden, historian, Mount Allison University, Sackville, N.B.

June Callwood, television host, writer, activist Olive Dickason, historian and professor emeritus, University of Alberta John English, former member of Parliament, historian, University of Waterloo Charlotte Gray, author and journalist

Norman Hillmer, historian, Carleton University Jeffrey Keshen, historian, University of Ottawa Mark Kingwell, philosopher, University of Toronto Bruce Kidd, athlete, director, School of Physical and Health Education, University of Toronto Trevor Levere, historian of science, University of Toronto

Duncan McDowell, historian, Carleton University Desmond Morton, director, McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, Montreal Bernard Ostry, former cultural bureaucrat and critic Geoff Pevere, cultural critic and author

Jacques Rouillard, historian, Université de Montréal Patricia Roy, historian, University of Victoria John Saywell, historian,

York University Barbara Solowan, art director, Canadian Art magazine Jean-Pierre Wallot, former national archivist of Canada David Zimmerman, historian of science, University of Victoria

Larry Zolf, CBC television personality and humorist